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Former Hawks look forward to seeing old teammates

by John Manasso
ATLANTA -- Andrew Ladd said the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks were such a close-knit group that if you asked him who his closest friends on the team were, he would have to name about 10 or 12 players.

Ladd has been traded from a Stanley Cup winner in the past -- going from Carolina to Chicago during the 2007-08 season -- so he's been through the drill before. But that doesn't mean that playing his former team Saturday will be any less strange when the defending Cup champions visit his Thrashers.

"Yeah, it's weird," Ladd said. "After playing Carolina the first time, in warm-ups you're looking over and going, 'That seems a little backwards.' It will be fun to see those guys. I haven't seen those guys since Chicago. I'm sure we'll catch up with some dinner tonight and then get ready to battle tomorrow."

As the Blackhawks had to break up a good portion of their team in the immediate aftermath of winning the Cup, a disproportionate share of their former players ended up in Atlanta (along with Thrashers associate coach John Torchetti), as Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley had spent five years in Chicago's front office before moving to Atlanta in 2009 as associate GM.

"I'm sure there'll be a lot of laughs on the ice, a lot of jokes. Those guys, some of them were my best friends on the team last year. It'll be fun to see them."
-- Patrick Kane

The Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp echoed Ladd's comments about it being strange to see his former teammates in new colors.

"It will be different to see them dressed up in their uniforms," he said. "I've watched a lot of their games this year and they seem to be doing well, playing a lot of minutes and being effective. It'll be fun to see them before and after the game, but once the game starts it'll be just like anything else. Just play as hard as you can."

Thrashers forward Ben Eager was traded to Chicago by the Philadelphia Flyers two years after Patrick Sharp made the same trip. Both were teammates with the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. During his Chicago days, Eager roomed with Dave Bolland.

Eager said he has exchanged texts with some of his former teammates as recently as Thursday.

"They're excited, too," Eager said. "They've been struggling a little bit. We haven't been playing great. Everyone's going to be prepared. It's going to be a pretty intense game because both teams are, you could say, struggling a little bit."

While none of the former Blackhawks traded to Atlanta were Olympians in 2010, a number of the Blackhawks had the experience of playing against their teammates in that tournament. In that sense, some of them have been through a situation similar to Saturday's before.

"I'm sure there'll be a lot of laughs on the ice, a lot of jokes," said Patrick Kane, a U.S. Olympian who played against Canadian teammates Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews in the gold-medal game. "Those guys, some of them were my best friends on the team last year. It'll be fun to see them."

As Sharp alluded, the move to Atlanta has meant new roles, and in some cases expanded roles, for their former teammates. Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are tied for the Thrashers' scoring lead with 12 points in 13 games.

Byfuglien has moved positions as well as teams, playing defense this season. He's tied for the League lead in points among blueliners and has sole possession of the lead in goals (5). Ladd has moved into a leadership role in Atlanta, wearing an "A," and on Friday coach Craig Ramsay was talking about him as a possible captain (the Thrashers are the only team in the League currently without a captain).

"Yeah, for sure, I've been put in a lot of different situations, whether it be (power play) or (penalty kill) and I get a lot more ice time," Ladd said. "It's fun to be out there a lot more and be put in those situations where you're counted on to create offense or be strong defensively throughout the game."

Neither team enters having played great hockey of late. Chicago is 5-5-0 in its last 10 games and has lost two in a row. Atlanta suffered its first regulation defeat in its last six Thursday, but has yielded 97 shots in its last two games.

That intensifies the focus on the outcome.

"It's another game," Byfuglien said. "You got to come in with a the focus that we've got to win. You can have friends, but during the game time you have to be enemies. We've got to work."

In 13 games, Atlanta has scored the first goal only four times, as slow starts have proved an issue. Something tells Ladd that won't be a problem Saturday.

"There should be a little extra incentive tomorrow night to jump all over them and there should be lots of energy coming from a few certain guys, and really from the whole team after the last few performances," he said. "We really should be ready to come out hard and be embarrassed by how we played the last couple of games."
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